Disaster and humiliation as Espanyol are relegated from La Liga
The season started brightly in Europe for the blue-and-whites but ended with a hugely painful relegation confirmed with a loss at Barcelona
RCD Espanyol have been relegated to the second division of Spanish football after a disastrous season where little went right for them despite the vast amounts of money spent on player incomings and desperate managerial changes.
With their season lasting almost a full calendar year from July 2019 to July 2020, the long slog came to a painful end with a humiliating defeat in the home of their most hated rivals, FC Barcelona, with the only solace being that no fans could attend the game to compound the misery onto the pericos. That loss was their sixth consecutive defeat, after an initially promising return of four points from their first two games after the restart.
A huge amount of fans’ anger will be directed towards the owner, Chinese businessman Chen Yansheng, at the helm since 2016. He promised Champions League football within three years. He got Europa League football in that stated time, but second division football a year later.
Fans want answers and culpability for the disaster that this year has been, but are left with a largely absent owner, as Yansheng hasn’t made any public appearance since December 2019. An open letter from a fans’ association in early July 2020 lamented the “shameful” performances of the team and highlighted the lack of responsibility taken by board members regarding the ever-worsening situation.
Humiliation at the hands of Barça
The game that sealed their fate was decided in a simple six-minute spell that could serve as a microcosm of their whole season; hope, self-inflicted damage, humiliating final nail in their coffin.
Ansu Fati, Barça’s tricky young winger, was introduced at half time and sent off five minutes later. With the score level, Espanyol were dealt a tiny ray of hope to at least regain some pride. However, the ball barely began to roll again before the referee brandished another red card for a very similar offense by Espanyol’s Pol Lozano.
Now playing with ten-men each, Barça took control of the ball in a way they hadn’t managed to before in the game, produced their one wonderful move of the whole match, and Luis Suárez tapped home the only goal of the game to condemn the blue-and-whites to their fate.
Enjoyable European campaign
July 2019 was a time full of promise for the blue-and-white side of the Catalan capital, with 18 goals scored in their six Europa League qualifying matches, their first continental games in over a decade.
The good results in Europe continued, but seemingly at the detriment of their league form, where they stuttered often as the squad failed to adapt to balancing two competitions.
The high point of their season perhaps came in November, save for a respectable 2-2 derby draw in January, with a brilliant 6-0 win over Ludogorets to seal their passage to the knockout stage of the Europa League.
There, they met high-flying Premier League outfit Wolverhampton Wanderers, who ended their European dream with a crushing 7-2 aggregate win.
Historically, Espanyol are not a rich club, but their new Chinese owners were keen to invest heavily and set their sights on Champions League football when they arrived. Last summer, they broke their transfer record for a new player, with €10.5 million spent on forward Matías Vargas.
This was then blown out of the water in the January transfer window when it became clear that Espanyol were in a relegation battle with the signing of Raúl de Tomás for more than €20 million.
Added to these records were the arrivals of Adrián Embarba for €10 million, Leandro Cabrera for €9 million, and Fernando Calero for €8 million, all arriving this season. All quality players in pivotal positions, yet the pericos were never able to find a comfortable rhythm and string enough wins together to keep their head above the water.
The financial outlay in transfer fees and wages could prove a problem in Spain’s second tier next season, when incomings will be drastically reduced without the Primera División television rights money.
On the bench, David Gallego was the first man to lead the charges for the campaign. The former youth team coach brought some of the first team players up through the academy system, but wasn’t able to get his team performing in the league, achieving just one win in eight La Liga games. He was given until October before it was decided that expertise and nous was needed on the dugout, and in came former Girona and Sevilla boss, Pablo Machín, with much expectation on his shoulders.
Again, Machín couldn’t revitalize Espanyol’s league form, and was sacked two days before Christmas, overseeing just one victory in ten league matches. It was recognized that the team needed a warrior to give them solidity and organization in defence, as at that point it was clear that the only priority was remaining a La Liga team next season. Abelardo was the man chosen for this task.
Abelardo made his debut at home in the Barcelona derby and his side earned a hugely credible 2-2 draw and followed this up with a win away to Villarreal and a point earned against Athletic. His first six games saw just one defeat, complemented by two wins and credible draws against strong teams like Barça, Sevilla, and Athletic.
Once more, this good run of form proved impossible to keep up, and some bad results and a three-month coronavirus break later, Abelardo too was packing his bags. Rufete, their sporting director, stepped in as manager and has been in charge since.